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School hosts film screening and panel event on loss of language

Woman by lake with aphasia

Being at a loss for words is an uncomfortable sensation most of us have experienced at some point.

Imagine, though, if the condition were permanent—if it came on the heels of a stroke or head injury or brain tumor—and if it was also accompanied by an inability to read, write, or even understand what other people are saying.

These are the daunting realities of aphasia, a neurological disorder caused by damage to portions of the brain that are responsible for language.

Those who have the disorder often say they feel as though their brain is holding their words hostage.

This Thursday, however, some very important voices will be speaking up on behalf of those who are battling the impairment. At 7 pm on July 11, a special screening of After Words, an acclaimed documentary that illuminates the struggles and triumphs of people living with aphasia, will be presented at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art. Directed by Emmy Award winner Vincent Straggas, the film features famed neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, Tony Award-winning actress Julie Harris, Grammy Award-winning musician Bobby McFerrin, and many others whose lives have been touched by aphasia.

Following the movie, a panel discussion will be hosted by Steve Bynum, a senior producer at WBEZ. The panel will feature an individual with aphasia, as well as Cynthia Thompson, the Ralph and Jean Sundin Professor of Communication Sciences, and lecturer and clinician Belma Hadziselimovic.

Hadziselimovic and Thompson are frequent collaborators. This summer, Hadziselimovic, who co-directs the School of Communication’s Intensive Summer Aphasia Program, is working one-on-one with clients with aphasia to help them recover their speech and language skills. The research she and her fellow clinicians gather is then shared with Cynthia Thompson, the director of the Aphasia and Neurolinguistics Research Laboratory, who studies the neurology of language impairment.

Thompson was recently awarded a $12 million grant from the National Institute of Health, the largest ever given to a School of Communication researcher. Her future work is expected to significantly impact clinical intervention practices, as well as expand knowledge about brain plasticity and the reorganization of language functions.

These strides—and countless other subjects and questions related to aphasia—will be discussed on during the panel event. The evening is hosted by the School of Communication’s Speech, Language, and Learning Clinic and the Aphasia and Neurolinguistics Research Laboratory.

For more information, please call 847-491-5012 or visit AfterWords.Northwestern.edu.